Coming from a family of nine, I couldn’t resist this tagline: “The Addams Family meets Cheaper by the Dozen.” I can still remember the first time I read Frank and Ern Gilbreth’s account of their life with ten siblings—I laughed myself to pieces, but also I envied them, craved the amazing atmosphere that bound the Gilbreths together. Obviously, a fictitious family can’t possess quite as many quirks as living, breathing humans, but Leaving the Bellweathers still caught my attention.
Meet the Bellweather family: Spider, a 14-year-old boy who surrounds himself and his family with dangerous--very dangerous--endangered animals; Ninda, a 13-year-old self-righteous do-gooder whose good deeds somehow always end in disaster; the 9-year-old triplets Spike, Brick, and Sassy, who speak to one another in Loud and Strong Voices; their hapless parents who only contribute to the chaos; and their wonderful, buttoned-up, and organized butler, Tristan Benway, who tells the tale of his attempted escape from the endangered alligators, scientific experiments run amok, smuggled-in circus performers, and general mayhem of the Bellweather family.
You can't deny that with such a tagline, comparisons are inevitable:
Like Cheaper by the Dozen, the story contains humor...
“May I use your credit card to pay for importing an endangered brute that might main or kill us, please?” ... “Why, certainly,” his mother said.... It was so nice to have a mother who believed in encouraging her children’s little schemes and hobbies.
Anyone who is familiar with twins or triplets knows that while there might be strong similarities in appearance, one can usually tell the individuals apart by some small difference. For instance, Brick Bellweather has short, curly blond hair; deceptively innocent, large blue eyes; and a dimple in his cheek. Sassy Bellweather has deceptively innocent, large blue eyes; short, curly blond hair and a dimple in her cheek. Spike Bellweather has a dimple in his cheek; deceptively innocent, large blue eyes; and short, curly blond hair.
Unlike Cheaper by the Dozen, however, and as the above quotes show, most of the Bellweather family’s escapades are larger-than-life. True, this is fiction, not embellished fact, but at times the antics were just too silly for my taste.
Like Cheaper by the Dozen, the Bellweathers have a mother named Lillian.
Unlike Cheaper by the Dozen, though, Dr. and Mrs. Bellweather are "hapless parents who only contribute to the chaos." Dr. Bellweather rumbles, “Poor genius fathers who have too many children to feed and aren’t respected in their own homes are surely as oppressed as your teeming masses!” I can picture Dr. Gilbreth sputtering those same words, but under his jesting surface, he knew that his children really did regard their parents with utmost respect.
I didn’t read far before I noticed the vocabulary. Bellweathers is geared toward ages 8 – 12, but I found it hard to imagine kids in that range persevering through words like “calisthenics,” “tirade” and “traversed.” Innocent enough on their own, but taken together, shot after shot, the prose felt a bit overwhelming for young readers.
But the stoic butler Benway has the same dry, martyr-like way about him as the Gilbreth’s hired man, Tom. I enjoyed that aspect. Speaking as a sister who has her own crosses to bear—her own young tornadoes—I sympathized with Benway’s plight.
ARC courtesy of Egmont USA
Release Date: 22 September 2009